musica Dei donum
rec: Feb 2008 (live), Klagenfurt, ORF Theater-Funkhaus
ORF - CD 3058 (© 2009) (57'07")
Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1581-1649):
Cromatica corrente ;
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643):
Bella tiranna ;
Deh vien da me ;
La Frescobalda ;
Occhi che sete ;
Se l'aura spira ;
Soffrir non posso ;
Toccata VIII ;
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651):
Alla caccia ;
Alla luce ;
Giunto il sole ;
Mira mira ;
Preludio I ;
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643):
Perché fuggi ;
Quel sguardo ;
Tornate, o cari baci 3];
Giovanni Maria RADINO (c1550-c1607):
Gagliarda I ;
Giovanni ROVETTA (c1596-1668):
O quante volte ;
Voi partite crudele ;
Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677):
Quante volte 
 Giovanni Maria Radino, Il primo libro d'intavolatura di balli d'Arpicordo, 1594;
 Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro primo di Villanelle, 1610;
 Claudio Monteverdi, Libro settimo de madrigali ..., 1619;
 Bellerofonte Castaldi, Capricci per sonar solo, 1622;
 Girolamo Frescobaldi, Arie musicali, 1630;
 Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro quinto di Villanelle, 1630;
 Claudio Monteverdi, Scherzi musicali, 1632;
 Girolamo Frescobaldi, Libro primo di Toccate e Partite, 1637;
 Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro quarto d'intavolatura di chitarone, 1640;
 Giovanni Rovetta, Secondo libro di Madrigali Concertati, 1640;
 Barbara Strozzi, Libro primo di Madrigali, 1644
Tore Tom Denys, Erik Leidal, tenor;
Daniel Pilz, viola da gamba, guitar;
Christopher Dickey, theorbo, guitar;
Reinhild Waldeck, triple harp;
Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord
The Italian repertoire of secular music from the first half of the 17th century is huge. Many composers who were active at the time are still largely forgotten. The composers who are represented on this disc don't fall into that category, but even their oeuvre contains some aspects which are hardly known. The only composer whose compositional output has been fully explored is Claudio Monteverdi. The music of Frescobaldi and Kapsberger is often played and recorded, but it is mostly their instrumental music which is paid attention to. This disc presents their vocal music which was soon forgotten after their death.
The programme notes tell us that the disc concentrates on music written in two of Italy's main cities, Venice and Rome. That is only true as far as the vocal music is concerned. Bellerofonte Castaldi was from Modena, and Giovanni Maria Radino worked most of his life in Padua. From Venice are the three composers who are represented with vocal items: Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Rovetta and Barbara Strozzi. They belong to different generations, and that shows in their vocal music. Monteverdi combined the stile antico and the stile nuovo, and put the text firmly in the centre. Barbara Strozzi's music is pointing into the direction of a differentiation between aria and recitative which would take place in the second half of the 17th century. Also from Venice is Giovanni Rovetta, probably a pupil of Monteverdi, and an representative of the concertato style. His second book of madrigals, from which the two pieces on this disc have been taken, is considered his best.
In comparison more attention has been paid to Rome, and in particular the two masters I mentioned above: Girolamo Frescobaldi and Johann Hieronymus (or Giovanni Girolamo) Kapsberger. Frescobaldi was the dominant player of and composer for the keyboard in Italy, and a master of international reputation. Many keyboard players from above the Alps travelled to Rome to take lessons from him. Through them he strongly influenced the development of keyboard music throughout Europe. His vocal music is not very well known, with the exception of the aria for solo voice which is also included here, Se l'aura spira. It is from a collection of secular music which was printed in 1630. At the time Frescobaldi served at the court of the Medici in Florence, but it is assumed most of the music in the collection was written earlier, when he was in Rome.
Kapsberger could be considered as the link between Venice and Rome: born in Venice from a German family he moved to Rome soon after 1605, where he developed into the main player of the theorbo and moved in the highest circles. He wrote a considerable amount of vocal music: apart from motets, sacred concertos and masses he composed arias and villanellas. Some of the arias contain written-out ornamentation and many florid passages, whereas the villanellas are written in a less complicated style, mostly syllabical and often in dance rhythms. These pieces were the most popular of his vocal works and no less than seven books of them were printed. It is from two of them that the pieces on this disc are taken.
The fact that the vocal music by Frescobaldi and Kapsberger is put into the spotlight here is the most attractive aspect of this disc, and makes it worthwhile independent from the level of performance. It shows that Frescobaldi and Kapsberger were well able to write for the human voice. Like I wrote, Monteverdi's secular output is well documented on disc, but it is understandable that some of his madrigals were included in the programme as he was one of the key figures of the early 17th century. And Barbara Strozzi fares pretty well on disc, but there is still much to be discovered in her oeuvre.
As much as I am pleased about the choice of music the artists have made, the performances give far less reasons for enthusiasm. The two tenors have fine voices, which blend very well. But the amount of expression is limited, and that is mainly because they hardly use the expressive devices composers of this time applied. What is especially striking is that the performances are dynamically rather flat, and that the singers hardly make use of the messa di voce. The coloraturas are often a bit stiff and not very natural.
The main requirement for a performance of this kind of music is the recitar cantando, a style of singing Giulio Caccini propagated. This includes dynamic accents and even more a freedom in the treatment of rhythm. It is the rhythmic rigidity which is one of the main shortcomings of these performances, for instance in Monteverdi's Perché fuggi. Frescobaldi's most popular vocal piece, Se l'aura spira, doesn't get a very subtle performance here.
The instrumental pieces are generally better, although Frescobaldi's Toccata VIII is too stiff. I especially enjoyed his La Frescobalda which is given a fine performance on the harp. The chitarrone pieces are also performed well. The players give good support to the singers, but I am not enthusiastic about the continuous alternation of harpsichord and chitarrone. I fail to see the reasons for that practice.
Lastly the recording: this programme was recorded live, but there are hardly any noises in the background. In my view the microphones have been too close to the singers: they are often a bit too loud - there is little dynamic differentiation anyway - and the intimate atmosphere this repertoire needs is pretty much absent.
The booklet contains programme notes and all the lyrics with English and German translations. The sources of the music are given, but there is no information as to which of the two tenors sing the solo pieces nor about the scoring of the basso continuo.
Johan van Veen (© 2010)